“All the great poets should have been fighters,” Muhammad Ali once said. “Take Keats and Shelley, for an example. They were pretty good poets, but they died young. You know why? Because they didn’t train.”
Ali had a point, but that jab missed its target. Not only were both Keats and Byron handy with their fists, many writers have found themselves attracted to sparring. Rod Serling, who got his nose broken while boxing, wrote the screenplay for Requiem for a Heavyweight, THE classic tale of both the allure and mental and physical hardships of professional fighting.
Josh Rosenblatt, a writer, ex-boxer, and former editor-in-chief of Fightland, suggests the seemingly disparate arts of writing and fighting have much more in common than one would think:
At the root of the sympathetic connection between writing and fighting lies solitude. Fighters have their trainers and cornermen and opponents, and writers have their editors and publishers and subjects, but in the end both are out there on their own, wrestling with themselves every time. Ask any trainer and they’ll say a fighter’s greatest obstacle isn’t his opponent but his own fear. The same is true for writers. The terror of physical destruction and the terror of the blank page are the same thing.
I think all who’ve struggled with the writing craft can identify with that observation.
I’ll add another thought on how the disciplines of sparring and writing can interact and enrich each other. Both help sharpen one’s awareness of the world around us. One cannot enter the ring with a rigid, prefabricated plan that cannot be altered when circumstances change. As General Kutuzov reminded his officers in War and Peace, “Before a battle, there is nothing more important than a good night’s sleep.” Alertness trumps planning in a world full of surprises.
And it’s the same with writing. We need outlines, but as the story evolves and grows, we have to listen to our characters and modify the narrative as circumstances dictate. That’s the key to crafting a story that feels fresh and alive.
Finally, as Ali noted, staying in shape is vital, especially for wordsmiths who sit for hours in front of a computer.